Underwater Snorkeling Photography Tips and Tricks

Underwater snorkeling photos make a great souvenir from your vacation.  Whether you are snorkeling in Hawaii, Mexico, Fiji, Australia or anywhere in between, there are hundreds of great snorkeling photo opportunities.

Capturing the perfect snorkeling photo however isn’t always easy.  Do you ever feel frustrated with your snorkeling photos looking amateurish or lacking the professional edge?  If so, you may find this list of underwater snorkeling photography tips helpful.  Not all of the tips listed may apply depending on your location, subjects and skill level.

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TOP TIP

Get level or underneath the subject

This one tip is the best piece of advice that we can give to improve snorkeling photos.  Depending on your snorkeling and photography skill level, this might also be one of the more challenging pieces of advice to follow.  Underwater photos of fish, turtles, etc are better taken from a lower perspective.

Try to be level as possible with the fish.  Even better, capture shots looking up at the fish.  Imagine yourself as a portrait photographer.  How would the pictures look if you were directly above your subject capturing images of the top of their head?

Depending on the depth of your snorkeling area, this may not be possible – in which case take a look at using an underwater boom pole (selfie stick, etc) to extend your reach.

PREPARATION

Don’t overlook the importance of preparing yourself and your equipment prior to entering the water.  Preparation work done before entering will help you capture better images and be more relaxed during your experience.

Familiarize yourself with your equipment

This is often overlooked.  While you are in the water, you will have dozens of things to manage and juggle between your mask, snorkel, the tides, swimming, etc.  Be plenty familiar with both your snorkel and photography equipment.  Take some time to get more familiar with each piece before trying to put them all into action at once.

Setup your camera before entering the water

Before you jump in the water take a few mins to prepare your camera.  This includes setting the shooting modes, ensuring your batteries and memory cards are ready as well as preparing any lighting sources.

Ensure a watertight seal

Regardless of the equipment being used it is important to ensure that it has a watertight seal.  You would be very disappointed to put a new expensive waterproof camera into the water only to realize that you forgot to close a latch door causing water to flood into a chamber.

Clean the lens

This tip is different depending on the equipment being used – but the concept is universal.  Make sure that you lens is clear of dust, debris, smudges, etc before entering the water.

Use a fresh battery

Chances are, you will be in the water for a decent length of time.  With underwater equipment, changing the battery is often a little more complicated since you need to wait for your equipment to dry.  For this reason make sure that you always enter the water with a fresh set of batteries in your equipment

Have extra fully charged batteries

This might seem like common sense, but if you are on a snorkeling excursion, chances are that you may be away from land for the better part of a day.  You may be snorkeling, taking breaks and then snorkeling some more.  Since it is important to use a fresh battery when you enter the water, you may need to change out a battery during a break.  This is true even if your existing battery is not fully used up.  Imagine snorkeling, then taking a break then having your battery run out 5 mins after getting back in the water.  Spare batteries help to avoid that.

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CAPTURING IMAGES

Use a flash

If your camera has a flash, use it.  Even on a bright sunny day, the light will get diffused as it travels through the water.  The flash brings out better color detail in the fish.  If you don’t have a flash available, you may want to look at a dive light or underwater flashlight which can often give the same effect.

Get perspective for dramatic reef shots

Looking up or down against a reef can help lend perspective on the size the reef.  You can even take it a step further and try to get a fish coming over an edge to lend a dramatic flare the the size and structure of the reefs edges.

Capture fish from the side for vibrant patterns

Getting a shot of a fish staring you in the face will make a great photo but it may lack showing off the fishes patterns and details.  Strive to take photos of fishes from a side perspective that shows their colors, patterns, etc.

Watch where the fish eat

Fish and water creatures tend to get more frightened by snorkelers than scuba divers.  For this reason, snorkelers have a greater challenge of capturing photos without scaring the fish.  One way to get around this is by watching where a fish is eating.  For reef fish, this might be against a particular piece of coral, etc.  Keep your camera focused on the coral, remain motionless and wait for the fish to come back to its food source.

Anticipate where the fish will be

Since fish get spooked easily by snorkelers you often have to anticipate where a fish will be swimming.  This is often done by observing their swimming habits for a few moments.  Many reef fish will go in and out of the same passages or holes within the reef.  Pay attention to passageways and you may be able to capture a really good photo of a fish entering or leaving.

Capture the image quickly

Fish get spooked easily by snorkelers.  If you have a shot that you like, take it.  Your window for capturing the image is small so If you hesitate there is low probability that you will get the shot again.  The exception to this rule would be if your equipment takes a moment to process after each shot, for example, to prepare the flash for another picture.  If that is the case then you might want to be a little more judicial with how often you fire away.

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Use an extension pole

If you like shooting video underwater, then use an extension pole to help get underneath the fish.  One huge advantage to using a camera such as a GoPro is that they have the ability to flip the recording of their images into an upside down position.  You can attach the GoPro to an end of an extension pole, flip the cameras capture setting and then have great videos of the fish and sea life looking up at them instead of down at them.

Compose your shot

Don’t forget that you are a photographer and that composition matters.  Underwater photography is one of the few photography genres that often allow photographers to get away with bad composition.  However don’t let this become an excuse.  Apply basic composition rules to have your photography stand apart from others and give it that professional feel.

Include the reef in your compositions

Close up shots of fish can be beautiful and dramatic, but don’t forget to take photos that demonstrate a fishes surroundings and habitat.  This is especially true with larger animals such as sting rays, turtles, etc.  A photo of a turtle interacting with it’s surroundings can tell a very dramatic story.

Slow down and watch for hidden life

Octopuses and several other types of marine life blend in with their surroundings.  As you kick and splash above them they will go into hiding.  Slow down and keep still to see what creatures come out of hiding.

Go beyond normal tourist traps

The tourist traps are often popular for their abundance of underwater life.  Unfortunately this is often coupled with crowded surroundings and destroyed reefs.  If you get frustrated by having other snorkelers photo bomb your images, or of the reef looking depleted and dying from tourists stepping on it, you may have better luck in other spots.  Ask around to dive shops for advice on other good snorkeling locations that might offer clearer water, less crowds and a more realistic reef surrounding.

Try capturing video

Even you profess to be a photographer only, you may be pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable a couple quick video clips of your snorkeling trip may be.  When capturing videos, use the same principles outlined here of getting level with the fish, keeping composition in mind, etc.  Also keep your camera as steady as possible and limit your video to short clips highlighting the reef.

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SAFETY AND SURROUNDINGS

It is very easy to get lost in the beauty of the underwater world.  For that reason it is even more critical to stay aware of your surroundings.  Don’t forget your personal safety when photographing underwater.

Don’t get too far way from the boat

When snorkeling from a boat, pay attention to how far away the boat is.  Don’t let yourself get too far away.  Depending on your location their may be a drift pulling you away from the boat making it very difficult to return.

Watch for strong waves

When snorkeling from the shoreline, pay attention that the waves, tides and rock formations.  A strong wave that slams you up against a rock formation could really ruin your snorkeling trip fast.

Pay attention to tide tables

Life on the reef changes dramatically throughout the day.  For example, the reef is more active during feeding times.  This often occurs as the tide is coming in bringing new feeding sources from the ocean into the reef.  You may have better chances of more fish during this time.  However as the tide comes in, you may find more particles or distractions in the water.  These can often be captured and highlighted by your flash.  If your snorkeling area is a particularly rough one, you may have better luck as the tide is going out as it may provide for a calmer and cleaner water pool.

Watch for weather conditions

High winds can lead to a lot of debri in the water.  If you have flexibility in your schedule you may want to plan your snorkeling visits on days with lower wind issues to reduce the amount of debris that gets in your way.

Bring snacks and drinks

After a good snorkeling session you will most likely burn through a lot of calories and have a lot of sea water in your mouth.  bring a snack to refuel with and some drinks to get the salt water taste out of your mouth.  Afterall, you are there to enjoy your time, not make yourself uncomfortable.

Bring fresh water for cleaning

After you leave the salt water, clean your equipment off quickly with fresh water.  This prevents the buildup of salt on your equipment and helps to extends your equipments life.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Leave your location better then when you arrived

“Leave no trace” is a motto from the Boy Scouts that basically says that when leaving nature, there should be no evidence of your visit.  Take that motto a step further.  When you are snorkeling, if you see a candy wrapper in the water, grab it and throw it away when you get to shore.  This isn’t to say that you should spend your whole time picking up trash, but rather, strive to leave the reef and it’s surroundings in a better condition than when you entered.

We hope you enjoyed this collection of underwater snorkeling tips.  Help us create more resources and tools by sharing this page with your family and friends.

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